I have been working for the past year as a Physical Education teacher at a local elementary school. Because of issues of childhood obesity, poor exercise and diet habits and related declining health of our nation's youth, the state of California now requires that elementary schools provide 100 minutes of PE related activities to all students each week. This is a great goal, but still ... sigh ... challenges abound. While I was one of those "tom-boy" sports loving PE fanatics when I was a kid, I am yet not surprised to witness that most kids are not too keen on the idea of organized Physical Education. This is something that I will never quite understand but it is the reality.
It has been a challenging year as I have organized and conducted approximately 18 PE classes a week but have had to maneuver around attitude problems, behavioral and disciplinary issues, lack of motivation on the part of the student body, in order to reach those who really want to learn and become better. We have done segments on Frisbee, football, basketball, softball, tennis, general ball skills and organized games in order to achieve the goals and standards set by the state, but I saved the best for last. The bright spot has come in this last quarter of school. This last quarter I have devoted our PE time to a five week session of Track and Field.
When I was in elementary school, beginning in the 4th grade we could participate on our school Track and Field and Cross-Country teams. At my mom's urging, I did both when I was 9 and truly it set the course for the rest of my running career. At Cleveland Elementary where I currently coach, there has never been a running team, neither Track and Field nor Cross-Country. The school is underprivileged and is culturally unfamiliar with these types of competition. It became my conviction this year to present this opportunity to these students.
I began by explaining to each class in the simplest of terms, what Track and Field was, showing them a picture of La Playa Stadium, pointing out the long jump pit, the lanes on the track, the numbers, the start line, the finish line, the shot put area, the stands from which spectators observe each athlete. From 1st grade through 6th grade I tried to explain the different events and presented the idea of forming a team from Cleveland to compete in the Santa Barbara All-County Youth Track and Field Competition to be held in May. There was much enthusiasm at the idea of joining a team and competing while at the same time it was clear that there was little understanding of the sport. They had no reference except for those who may have seen an Olympic moment, and so the excitement had more to do with the idea of competing at the city college in that magnificent stadium. But I went with that and tried to mold this into a realistic grasp.
I had only five weeks to form the team and train them and so my first order of business was to send a letter of full explanation to the parents, along with a registration form. The meet deadline was on top of me before I could even catch my breath and I did my best to help the kids help their parents understand the whole idea. There were approximately 100 kids that wanted to join the team and took home the information. Of those about 35 actually brought back the signed registration, and of those about 30 in the end committed to attending the meet, and of those 22 students competed.
The administration of getting information to parents and signed registration forms returned to me was only part of the challenge. The other part was to prepare the students for competition. These kids had never seen or stepped onto a 400 meter track, nor beheld a long sand pit, hurdle, shot put, relay baton or starting line, so we had to pretend a lot. We pretended a cushioned mat was a sand pit. We pretended that a 4 pound squishy pink ball was a 6 pound shot put. We pretended the grass and crumbling asphalt of our aging playground was an oval track. We pretended that cones marked out the passing zone for a relay hand-off. We learned how to run straight and stay inside our own lane on a short lined area of the school grounds. We learned to jump fearlessly, run as fast as possible, push the weighted ball properly off of our shoulder and all of it was done without context. Therefore I am very proud of the team that competed against experienced and fit opponents on the day.
The remaining challenge was to get funding for these students to enter the meet. The fee was daunting for most families and without help, these kids would have never been able to step into that stadium, smell the moist morning air, feel the tremble of nervousness, and the opportunity would have passed them by again. But the funding came as two organizations answered our plea. Club West, which conducted the meet, agreed to give most of our athletes a 50% discount, and the Santa Barbara Athletic Association met and agreed to graciously cover the remaining cost. The appreciation and gratitude of this generosity was widespread as school staff, parents, students and myself were elated. I want to say here again, THANK YOU.
So the big day came, last Sunday May 6th, and one by one the Cleveland students walked wide eyed into La Playa Stadium. They were smiling with nervousness as this was more than they could have previously conceived. There were many teams represented but ours was among the largest in number. We were the only public Santa Barbara elementary school represented and of course it was a first for our school. They were finally able to put all of their training into perspective as they looked over the track and field, saw the starter in a red blazer holding the pistol I told them about, saw the sand in the pit, looked over the huge oval that was twice the size of their little grass field. The questions came in rapid fire and before long everyone felt a little more prepared as the meet announcer began to make first calls for events.
Getting the kids to their events was a near impossible task as there were many things going on at once and multiple races covering both genders and individual age groups. Field events lapsed over into running events and folded over onto other field events. Athletes often needed to be in two places at once. It would not have been possible to accomplish the day without the help of my devoted husband and fellow coach. He gave up his only day off to be there for me and the kids and by the end of the day we were both equally exhausted. THANK YOU coach AB.
Between 100 meter dashes, 200's and 400's, baseball throwing, shot putting, long jumping and water breaks in between, our team took home 2 Gold medals, 1 Silver, 2 Bronzes and a smattering of 4th, 5th and 6th place ribbons. Almost all of the athletes on our team scored in the top 6 in at least one event, some had multiple placings. All of these awards are still in my possession as I await their school awards assembly at which to present them before the proud eyes of parents, staff and fellow students.
I spent a lot of time going over every detail of our track and field program, and a lot of time working with kids to teach them the skills they would need to compete with dignity. I worked with kids on the team and I worked with kids who were not on the team. Track and Field is what we did in PE for five weeks regardless. No matter how many times I explained the whole track and field plan to them, no matter how many times I answered the same questions over and over again, no matter how many times I told them May 6th is the big day, there was at least one thing that they never quite grasped. On the Monday following the meet the students approached me at various times throughout the day and asked ... Coach Cindy, when's our next track meet?